April 2016 – Evergreen Treatment Services (ETS) has offered medication-assisted treatment for adults with opioid use disorder since 1973. This August they plan to open their newest location, a 350 patient facility in Renton, King County, Washington. This new addition comes on the heels of a 58% increase in heroin related deaths in 2015.¹ Assistant Division Director of King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division Brad Finegood noted that the opening of this clinic is a direct result of the overwhelming need for more treatment facilities in the area. “The problem is growing faster than our ability to build new facilities.”² ETS CEO, Molly Carney, said that methadone and buprenorphine as well as counseling services is a crucial part of treatment for those addicted to opioids.²
However, just offering this services does not solve the larger societal problem of public stigma. Time and time again we see instances of people fighting against the opening of clinics in their respective communities. Business owners and residents often feel concerned when they hear of the possibility of a medication-assisted treatment facility (often misleadingly referred to as just “methadone clinics”) opening near them for fear that an increase in criminal activity will follow. In a Philadelphia Daily News report on a proposed clinic opening they quoted one resident as saying, “We’re not gonna tolerate the existence of this establishment…No community is an appropriate place for a methadone clinic.”³ The sentiment “not in my back yard” is commonly applied to treatment clinic openings. Logically, it should instead be applied to addressing overdose deaths because those are happening in everyone’s backyard. This is just one of the barriers that advocates, professionals and those in recovery face.
In a powerful statement, Assistant Division Director of King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, Brad Finegood said, “Public support is going to be very important…One of the biggest battles we are fighting is stigma. People who are opiate dependent are not bad people, they are people who have a sickness and illness. They have a medical condition. Rather than people being afraid, we need the community to rally around the fact that people need treatment. We have a need in our suburban cities and rather than saying we don’t want the services here, we want communities to embrace treatment and treatment that we know it works.”² Shilo Murphy of the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance says that, “If you want to stop overdose deaths…the key is getting rid of the stigma, loving and respecting people who use, supporting them to use with friends, providing them with education, and not shunning them.”¹